While it is generally regarded as a basketball conference, the Missouri Valley Conference has had a penchant for producing quality professional baseball prospects. Wichita State is the most well-renowned program both in terms of collegiate success and high-end talent (Casey Gillaspie, Conor Gillaspie, Mike Pelfrey and Braden Looper, among others), but Missouri State University has had it’s fair share of pro prospects, particularly pitchers (Ross Detwiler, Shaun Marcum, Brad Ziegler, Scott Carroll, Mike Kickham, Pierce Johnson and Nick Petree).
Junior righty Jon Harris is the present iteration of the highly-regarded MSU hurlers, and while he will not be selected as early as Detwiler (6th overall in 2007), the right hander should be off of the board in the top 40 picks.
Harris was drafted out of a St. Louis area high school in the 33rd round of the 2012 draft, and has put up solid numbers since setting foot on campus. After pitching for the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League this past summer, Harris has received some more buzz, so it was little surprise to see 20+ evaluators, including a handful of scouting directors on hand to see Harris pitch against Jacksonville University two weekends ago.
Harris comes with an ideal pitcher’s body, measuring in at a listed 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds. With long arms, sloped shoulders, and a lean build, the right hander is plenty projectable with the frame to easily carry another 20 pounds. The lower-half is a bit thicker than the upper-body, but he is still possesses enough athleticism, flexibility, and body control to repeat his delivery relatively consistently.
Delivery & Arm-Action
Harris used a slightly closed setup from the first base side of the rubber and worked into a simple, high lift with the leg reaching above the hip and near the letters. Upon reaching maximum leg lift, Harris quickly returned the leg down before exploding out to home plate when his front (left) knee was even with his back (right/drive) knee. Despite the moving parts in the lower-half, Harris was generally able to maintain the timing necessary to stay balanced and drive off of the backside. At times in the start Harris struggled at foot-strike (or landing) and on a few occasions, particularly while working from the stretch, he got a bit rigid/stiff and spun off of the frontside. Overall, these instances were few, and Harris displayed a decent feel for repeating his delivery.
Harris breaks his hands as he lowers his front leg and does a pretty good job of keeping the ball behind his high frontside/lead arm through his high 3/4 release point. Harris’ arm-action is pretty clean and while the path is whippy and loose, Harris’ above-average arm speed and body control allow it to work well.
The start on Saturday against JU was Harris’ second since being sidelined for two weeks with an ankle injury, but there was no sign of any rust in the stuff (also no signs of rust in his 1st start back on 3/22–9 IP, 3 H 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K) and Harris scattered seven hits over eight scoreless innings, fanning six in the process.
Harris’ fastball generally worked in the 90-92 mph range, hitting 94 mph early on, thought I’ve heard that Harris has hit 95 mph often this spring. The pitch came in with good downward plane and angle, and Harris displayed above-average command of the offering. Harris also showed the ability to run/sink the offering to the arm side and occasionally cut it to the glove side. Overall, it is a tough pitch to square up consistently and provides a solid foundation to the rest of the arsenal.
The bigger breaking ball of the two Harris arsenal, the curveball was inconsistent but flashed above-average potential. Most scouts say the curveball is the stronger of Harris’ two off-speed pitches, but the slider was better the day I saw him. Early in the outing, he had limited feel for the offering, which registered between 75-79 mph, and would noticeably alter his release point (higher) when throwing the curve. At it’s best, the curveball displayed 11/5 to 12/6 break, big depth, and solid, late break in the bottom half of the zone.
Harris’ slider came in a little hotter on the gun, between 81-84 mph, and it was the more effective and consistent breaking ball, particularly in the early innings, on this viewing. He had a good feel and noticeable confidence in the late-breaking offering with good glove side slice and late depth.
Harris’ most effective pitch was his changeup, which flashed above average to plus throughout the offering and garnered many whiffs. Thrown with nearly the same arm speed as the fastball, Harris’ changeup was very deceptive and featured decent fade and run to the arm side. He had the confidence and command to throw it early and often, even tripling up on the pitch on occasion. It is currently a weapon and should continue to be in professional ball. Most scouts have called his changeup average this spring, but the pitch stood out in this outing.
Harris only walked one and hit one batter in his eight inning, 117-pitch outing, but more importantly he showed an above-average ability to hit his spots in all four quadrants of the strike zone. He predominately worked down in the zone, but showed the ability to locate in the upper portions of the strike zone when needed. While feel for the curveball was a bit erratic on this outing, Harris showed average or better command of his fastball, slider, and changeup
Future Value: 50
Harris may not have the blazing fastball or devastating, GIF-friendly breaking ball that demands a lot of attention, but he does offer clubs with a relatively-polished, high-floor option. If he continues to pound the strike zone and demonstrate the same above-average ability to command his four pitch mix, Harris has a good shot to be a 3rd/4th starter at maturity.
Other Players of Note
- Tate Matheny, CF, Missouri State (video): Yes, the son of Mike Matheny patrols CF for Missouri State. The junior is considered a top-5 round talent, and is generally what one would expect from a manager’s son–grinder with good baseball instincts, plus makeup, fringy tools and solid fundamentals.
- Connor Marabell, LF/1B, Jacksonville (video): The left handed hitting corner outfielder/first baseman has a tough profile, but he’s displayed a solid feel for the strike zone and ability to consistently make hard contact.